Can a present day church have an order of worship that resembles what St. Paul described and mandated in his epistles? Especially pertinent is Paul command on the order of worship found in 1 Cor. 14: 26-33:
What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace —as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.(AY)
For most of Church history few have ever seriously considered this order of worship. Most Christians, clergy included, believe that the way to really “do” church has been clear for almost two millennium. Depending upon denomination, this has a mixture of fixed liturgy, Bible readings, singing and preaching. The Evangelical tradition emphasizes singing, preaching and the new sacrament of the altar call (less than one hundred and fifty years old). All of these elements are “good,” but have only indirect and partial resemblance to what went on in the churches founded by Paul in the 1st Century.
But maybe the Church is ready to try for something closer to what Paul mandated. For one thing, thanks to Pentecostalism and subsequent “Renewalist” movements like the charismatic renewal, the “Third Wave” etc., many Christians now understand and practice what Paul was talking about in 1 Cor. 12. Many Christians now practice tongues, prophecy, word of wisdom, etc., and most Christians are at least aware of these gifts. This makes it possible to be obedient to what Paul mandated as the church order of worship.
In reference this possibility, Carolyn and I recently attended the Charismatic Leaders Fellowship (CLF) in Virginia Beach. This group is descendent from the older Charismatic Concerns Committee, which labored for years to bring accountability and balance to the Charismatic Renewal. This year’s session, the CLF discussed Dr. Jon Ruthven’s revolutionary new work, What’s Wrong with Protestant Theology? (Tulsa: Word & Spirit Press, 2013).
Ruthven’s thesis, well presented and documented, is that a central theme of the Bible is that God intends for all his people to a prophetic people. This principally means that every believer should directly hear His voice and then obey that voice. Prophecy, as in foretelling, is part of this, but the main part is for all Christians to “hear and obey,” which included sharing their revelations. The central scripture for this is 1 Cor. 14:1 where Paul grants prophecy the first rank among the gifts of the Spirit (That’s right, more important than tongues). 1 Cor. 14: 26-33 (cited above) Paul explains that the congregation should share their revelations with each other, wither they come from ecstatic utterances as in prophecy and tongues, or in their songs and psalms.
This mode of church worship as multiple individual revelation and sharing (hearing and obeying) is reinforced in Coll. 3: 16-17
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
And again in Eph. 5: 18-20
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul is but echoing God’s intention for his people that is found through scripture, as Ruthven’s What’s Wrong documents. This is perhaps most dramatically shown in an incident found in Numbers 11. There Moses called the seventy elders to his tent and the Spirit fell on them, including two who had not shown up yet, and were still among the people. These two began prophesying. Joshua felt that this was improper and they should be stopped: But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Num. 11:29)
At the Virginia Beach conference I had the privilege of being respondent to Dr. Ruthven’s presentation, and had read the pre-publication edition of his work. In my critique/response, I agreed with Ruthven’s analysis, suggesting that now perhaps Pentecostals could move on to make Prophecy the most important of the spiritual gifts, as Paul intended (1 Cor. 14:1) and dethrone tongues from its place of contention and ascendency.
I also suggested, as the Churches begin to move in their “Renewalist” mode towards “hearing and obeying,” then the chief role of pastor or priest shifts from being the great preacher, to that of the great discerner. That is, if many or most of the congregation are exercising the prophetic gifts, and sharing their prophecies, songs, psalms, and dreams, etc., then pastoral discernment to prevent chaos and the circulation of false prophecy is even more important than giving a great sermon.
This is a “hard teaching” for professional clergy. Evangelical ministers often base their self-esteem on the quality of their preaching, and priests on how well they blend a well done liturgy with concise preaching. The gift of discernment of spirits has had very little consideration, and often seen merely a “specialty” for those who do deliverance/exorcism ministry. But if Ruthven is correct, and I believe he is, discernment of prophetic utterances and spirits will become the most important single gift of the minister.
My own forthcoming book, tentatively entitled, “Recovering Hebraic Christianity,” corroborates Ruthven’s work from a historical perspective. I trace how, from the earliest times, the “normal” church service had fallen well below New Testament (Paul’s) standards. Perhaps the only fully Pentecostal/charismatic churches in the Early Church period were Paul’s congregations.
Certainly, the gifts of the Spirit were active in the Post-Apostolic Church, but nowhere as consistently active and central as described in Paul’s letters. This is partially attributable to the fact that the Early Church did not have a codified canon of scripture until the fourth Century, and did not fully understand that Paul’s writings were scripture. The liturgies of worship, both East and West, developed and set into a pattern that incorporated the Jewish synagogue service, with a communion service at the end. (See the classic on this, Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy). Not that synagogue service plus Eucharist is a problem, as Jesus himself used the basic synagogue service as the platform for his preaching and healing ministry (Matt. 12:9-14). But where were tongues, prophecy, words of wisdom, etc.? The answer is, very rarely, and certainly not in the written liturgies.
Tragically, by the Fourth Century the gifts of the Spirit, and the understanding of the gifts, were vestigial – broaching here and there, in individual saint’s lives, and revival movements, but with little sustaining impact. This is seen in the writings of St. Augustine (334-430) the great foundational theologian of Western Christianity. When he wrote his major work on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, entitled The Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, he cited Isaiah 11:2 as the descriptive of the gifts of the Spirit, not 1 Cor. 12 &14, which were ignored. St Augustine based his work on earlier Greek Christian theologians who centered their theologizing the role of the Holt Spirit in the godhead, while ignoring the practical aspects of the gifts of the Spirit in Church life. Paul’s view of the gifts of the Spirit, so central to his writings, had been marginalized by theologians in both the Eastern and Western churches (some exceptions, as in Gregory of Nyssa). Augustine’s truncated understanding of the gifts of the Spirit informed the Church for millennium, and to this day the Catholic catechism describes the gifts of the Spirit in terms of Isaiah 11:2, not 1 Cor. 12.
PART II: Personal journey into 1 Cor. 14.
Recovering the New Testament pattern of a Spirit filled service and liturgy is not impossible, but neither is it easy. I wish to share my journey towards it. Thus far this quest has been only partially successful, but with moments of success, glory and Spirit-energized power that indicate the Pauline model is attainable.
I lived the first part of my Christian life as a pious Roman Catholic, not even being aware that Paul’s order of worship was in scripture. As a new Charismatic in the 1970s I read 1 Cor. 14, etc., but believed, like most Renewalists, that these scriptures had no application to a public service, as in the regular Sunday service, and referred to special prayer meetings, home prayer groups, etc. I noticed, for instance that attempts by large Pentecostal churches to incorporate prophecy and the word gifts were clumsy, and not convincing. At Mount Paran Church of God in Atlanta, a twenty thousand member “mega-church” where Carolyn and I received our initial charismatic teachings, an occasional tongues would broach in the Sunday service. This was always interpreted by the lead preacher at the pulpit. The reason given was that the pastor was the only one with the mike. Well, OK, but… (By the way, this is not a general criticism of Mt. Paran, which I believe to be among the better churches in American,). That pattern is progress but not really the fullness of 1 Cor 14. There was never a spontaneous song or psalm from the congregation (not counting the rehearsed music ministry which most churches have).
But step by step the Lord led me to understand that these limitations and assumptions are normal but still not biblically normative. During my early charismatic journey I learned about the Camps Furthest Out (CFOs). These summer camps, begun in the 1930s, played a critical role in educating and forming the leadership of the charismatic renewal. (See my article on Clark and the CFO (HERE)The founder of the CFOs, Prof. Glenn Clark believed that every Christian should experiment in prayer, including writing their own psalms, and share them with other Christians (Glenn Clark, The Soul's Sincere Desire (1928). Personal psalm writing was encouraged and practiced at the camps. At the time I went to my first CFO camp (1979) I wrote my first psalm and found it was not particularly elegant, but a great way to pray, and kept up the practice sporadically.
Sometime later (1980s) Carolyn and I made a habit of min-vacations in the North Georgia town of Helen. One summer Sunday we visited a local Pentecostal Church led by a woman preacher (interestingly, the Pentecostal churches were the first in modern Christendom to have ordained women ministers). Other than the woman minister, the congregation was very traditional and fundamentalist. The minister, “Sister” Luceen, invited everyone to sing a song “unto the Lord” after the opening congregational singing. Several in the small congregation came up and sang. Some were quite nice and some awful. Sister Luceen invited us to do the same, but we declined that first Sunday. There followed a sermon and a healing service with the laying on of hands, as in many Pentecostal churches. I thought the song interlude was quaint, not yet connecting with what Paul had plainly commanded (some of us are slow learners). The next time we visited, Carolyn and I were ready and we belted out a duo of the charismatic song, “Praise the name of Jesus” – great fun.
A decade on I had received ordination and was the Anglican Priest at Light of Christ Anglican Church in Smyrna, with principal duties as pastor to a Hispanic congregation, but with occasional duties as priest at the morning “Anglo” service also. It was the custom of our church to encourage spontaneous prayers from the congregation in substitute to the set “prayers of the people” found in the Book of Common Prayer. This is now quite common, and certainly not original with us. A problem developed with this, as a certain person volunteered every time and prayed fervently and long, eventually to the offense of some in the congregation. I did not serve long enough in the Anglo services to work out a solution to this, which is not difficult, merely an act of tactful discipline to “encourage others” to contribute.
My attempt to flame a fully Pentecostal and Anglican worship service in the Hispanic congregation I pastored met with only limited success. Most in the congregation accepted the concept that every Christian can effectively pray for the sick. We taught and demonstrated this at practically every service, and had several wonderful examples of members succeeding in this ministry. But the word gifts of the Spirit, prophecy, words of wisdom and knowledge, were much more difficult to stir into practice. I had several persons who developed outstanding gifts in healing but only one each with of gift of tongues and prophecy, this out of a congregation of forty or so. Not a good record.
The experience with the prophetess was particularly frustrating. She had an excellent gift which she used on two occasions during the “prayers of the People.” But them her husband took offense at an incidence of gossip that hit the church - sound familiar after a spiritual breakthrough? They never came back. I also went to great lengths to explain psalm writing, and stressing that the Hebrew psalms depended on repletion, not rhyming, so that all could be “psalmists.” That had only limited success, as most were reluctant to share initial attempts (I had not learned that I need to consistently model this myself). The invitation for songs from the congregation went unheeded save for one instance.
Unfortunately, the priest called as rector, and over me, made several decisions that made the Hispanic service untenable (the less said here the better). I closed down the service in 2007, leaving a congregation to go to another nearby church well trained in healing and deliverance, but little exercised in the word gifts. Recently, I received a call from one of my ex-sheep who called in the middle of an exorcism for advice. There was shouting in the background. As he explained the situation he said, “Oh, I remember what you taught us, adios.” and hung up. He called later telling me all went well and the demons fled. Nice.
The loss of the church put me in the dumps for a while, but I refocused on finishing the research and text of “Recovering Hebraic Christianity.” Now I understand the whole thing was Providential, and that I could not have written this work while being pastor fulltime. During my “down in the dumps” time I began writing psalms regularly, several of the “lamentations” kind, and found them spiritually consoling. I went whole hog to imitate the Biblical psalms, and entitled my three ring folder “The psalms of William, son of George.”
As I was finishing “Recovering Hebraic Christianity” I was invited to assist the pastor of a Pentecostal Church in a nearby town. The pastor was a great preacher who had pastored a mega church in North Georgia but burned out. He had recently started afresh, and had about 100 attending on Sundays. Carolyn and I attended regularly for a month and were quite impressed by his anointed preaching. But even in this small Pentecostal congregation the “priest and peasants” pattern prevailed. The pastor was reluctant to invite prophecy during the service, and seemed uncomfortable when tongues or prophecy occasionally broached. He normally gave a fifty minuet sermon and a ten minuet altar call. Other than a regular healing ministry with the laying on of hands, his services would be indistinguishable from a lively Baptist service.
This pastor invited Carolyn and me to help as pastors in charge of visitation and healing ministry. Part of the deal was that I could have an alternate service when the Sunday church services were not scheduled. I chose a Saturday evening service at 7:00. This was a mistake for a small church. It works in mega-churches where a substantial number of shift workers cannot make it to Sunday morning service. But in our church we never got over fifteen, and often had half that. It was really a home group rather that a church. But it gave me just enough of a congregation to experiment on the 1 Cor. 14 again.
From the beginning I explained we would take 1 Cor. 14 literarily and seriously. We would begin with praise singing, and then proceed to the “prayers of the people” that included original psalms, singing and the word gifts of the Spirit as in tongues with interpretation and prophecy. The congregation was Pentecostal so that except for the concept of psalm writing, everything was familiar to them though not often practiced.
Our order of worship went usually like this: opening congregational singing (praise songs), preaching/teaching, “prayers of the people” (1 Cor. 14: 26-33), Eucharist and “prayer huddles,” and dismissal.
In our first service I did a teaching on personal psalm writing (there are several good articles on this on the web), stressing that Hebrew psalms were based on repetition, not skills in rhyming, so that everyone can do a “biblical” psalm. I also laid down a “three minute rule” (remembering the person who couldn’t do short prayers.) As it turned out the three minute rule was only a guideline, in place in case a person got carried away, but I never had to stop anyone. I would usually begin the “prayers of the people” with one persons praying for the government and another for our Armed Forces. This was usually followed with a “pastor’s psalm” as model and encouragement, although after a few weeks this was not necessary.
One of our focuses was on intercessory prayer for the conversion of the Muslim peoples. I composed and read several psalms on this topic. I shared this psalm on the attempted assassination of a fourteen year old Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, by a Taliban gunman for the “crime” of encouraging school attendance (Oct of 2012).
A psalm for Malala
Let the Spirit of Jesus bring healing to Malala,
And the balm of Gilead pour over her wounds.
Let her hospital bed be surrounded by warrior angels.
Let them go with her as she walks out of the hospital,
And to her home well and happy.
Let this barbarity be costly to the Taliban and to their ruling demons.
Let the evil principalities and powers fall into consternation,
And say to themselves, “Woe to us! This is costly!
Our act has brought great gain to the Kingdom of the Enemy,
And much loss to our father, Satan!”
Let Al Jazeera continue to cover this story in detail.
And bring it to the light all over the Muslim world.
Let Muslims from Indonesia to Morocco reflect and be dismayed.
Let them say, “Can Allah be pleased by this?”
Guide then to think unthinkable thoughts,
And share in private what is “blasphemy” to the Imams.
“Is there something wrong with the Koran?
Is Islam truly the way of God?
All this violence, and car bombs, and Shia against Sunni and…”
By your grace Lord, Let their thoughts turn further,
To the Man on the cross, who said,
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Let them think and say, “Perhaps… this is the better way.”
Let the Jesus Film multiply and spread from CD to computer to smart phone.
And let the Bible find its way into every Islamic home.
As the demons curse and lament, “This has been costly to us!
Look how the Enemy’s Kingdom spreads, and robs us of our captives!”
Let Malala and her family find peace and joy in Jesus, healer and Son of God,
As many among the millions in the land of Allah.
Let this it all be costly to the demons.
The prayers of the people included songs composed by our small congregation. I told them how Charles Wesley often “robbed” popular and sometimes salacious songs and made their tunes into holy hymns. Again I modeled this by singing the lyrics I had composed to Modana’s song from the opera Evita, “Don’t cry for me Argentina:”
Jesus is Lord of creation, to Him I bring my adoration.
No name is higher, no name is higher,
In the heavens above, in the earth below.
Encouraging creative songs was very successful. I believe this was helped by the fact that so many people have watched “American Idol.” Two of our ladies had composed over the years a number of songs, most of which had never been publicly sung, and some of which were quite beautiful. One lady related how she once went to a Baptist Church where the pastor, on a providential inspiration, invited if anyone had a song to share. She did so to the astonishment and edification of the congregation. But later the pastor told her, “That was great, but I don’t want any of that Pentecostal stuff. No tongues.” She left. Another woman is now in the process of professionally recording some of the songs she first shared at our services. The most charming incident was a song duet of Father and teen daughter. She took a current rock song and substituted Christian lyrics, and her father did choirs of amen! and praise the Lord! It was wonderful, inspiring and funny.
Since most of these folks were already Pentecostal, there was never a lack of at least one prophecy, or tongues with interpretation at the service. At times this would occur right after or in between praise songs, but sometimes at other parts of the service. Prayers of the People also included intercessory prayer for those not present. We reserved prayers for the sick among us, and other personal intentions to the last.
After the prayers of the people I did a simplified Rite II communion service, which included the confession and the words of consecration. Receiving communion, the congregation moved to their pre-designated “communion huddle groups” (CHGs) where they prayed for one another. For instance, if a person had recently undergone the trauma of divorce, the CHG would include persons who had walked thru similar experiences, and would have special compassion for the person. Even though every CHG had one person who needed intense prayer, as in serious sickness, divorce, etc., I instructed that every person in the huddle have at least one of their prayer intentions prayed for. Here too prophetic words, tongues and words of wisdom were exercised. This stage often took twenty minutes or more. I would then dismiss with a final benediction for those who had to leave, but the CHGs often went on.
I called this service “Rite II, Pentecostal.” It included the core liturgy of the Early Church (synagogue service and Eucharist) but with an expanded “prayers of the people” to exercise what Paul had commanded. It was wonderful and powerful. I was disappointed that it did not grow as I had expected and prayed. Several persons expressed that these were the “coolest services” they had ever been in. Another person wept in joy and awe, and promised this would be her permanent church. But they mostly never returned.
My step daughter-in-law, and a prayer intercessor at her large Methodist church, visited our church with her family and expressed no surprise at this. She told me that our services were of an intensity and spiritual power that she had never experienced, and that, “People are not used to that, and frightened by it.” That was an illumination. This “Rite II Pentecostal” was indeed well beyond the boundaries of what people expected as church.
The pattern of “priests and peasants” will take more than simple demonstration to overturn. Besides frightening the “sheep” with an unusual intensity of spiritual activity, it can be unnerving to the clergy. I had several occasions when this happened to me. It happened during the CHG time. I would roam from one group to another to see if they needed my prayers, wisdom or experience. But each CHG had at least one experienced Pentecostal prayer warrior who was every bit as capable as myself. No help needed, thank you! I might as well have been home doing paper craft airplanes (my hobby, see my blog on this HERE).
This is not a trivial issue. Priests and ministers come into ministry with the expectation that they will be the center of attention and source of most spiritual ministry. Even the most fundamentalist “I-don’t-like-anything-Catholic” type preacher has most likely bought into the “priest and peasant” model of ministry. Going into ministry and accepting the conditions of a Pauline, 1 Cor. 14 church will take readjusted expectations and ambitions.
This service came to an end when we received the “left foot of dis-fellowship.” The pastors besetting sin was a fierce temper (most of us have one lurking in a recess of our soul). There was a minor miscommunication between him and my wife that the pastor took as personal insult. He rudely told her not to return - sad, and unbiblical.
A month after that incident we were firmly ensconced in Pentecostal church, “Faith Point Church” of Holly Springs, just down the street. The pastor there has never publically lost his temper. Carolyn and I have fit in quite nicely, again leading the healing and counseling ministry. The congregation is growing, but still less than one hundred, and we have moved into a large facility. I am praying that as it grows I have a chance at another Rite II Pentecostal (not Saturday night!). I also pray the Lord would grow this service to over one hundred or more in order to work out the 1 Cor. 14 model for midsized congregations. (One would really get into difficulties with mega-churches trying to do this).
We should again stress that this “Rite II Pentecostal” service maintained the Early Church pattern of synagogue service plus the Eucharist, and the innovation was in expanding the “prayers of the people” to be in conformity to Paul’s order of worship.
This is a blog, and I am especially interested in hearing other stories of trying to do 1Cor. 14 Church, successful of not.
Blessings to all…
The noted Pentecostal scholar Dr. Jon Ruthven wrote a very positive review of my latest book, Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal. You can access it HERE.
The book may be purchased on Amazon, either print or inexpensive Kindle HERE You can purchase the print version at a discount from the publisher HERE
My wife has written a funny and inspiring story of how she transited from a cessionist and Baptist to a Spirit-filled Believer. The book has many stories of our three decades of ministry together. It may be purchased HERE.